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Volunteers keep PGA Transitions Championship on course at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club

Volunteer Julia Hall, left, calls for quiet Friday on the 18th tee at the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club during the Transitions Championship. At right is pro golfer Corey Pavin, the 1995 U.S. Open winner and 2010 Ryder Cup captain.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Volunteer Julia Hall, left, calls for quiet Friday on the 18th tee at the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club during the Transitions Championship. At right is pro golfer Corey Pavin, the 1995 U.S. Open winner and 2010 Ryder Cup captain.

PALM HARBOR — As a volunteer laser operator during the Transitions Championship at Innisbrook, Shirley Royak enthusiastically tracks the shot distances of every player.

This is more than a little ironic.

Royak has never crushed a driver, blasted a bunker shot or sunk a putt. In fact, the 74-year-old Redington Shores resident and retiree has not even hit a golf ball.

Ever.

"My (late) husband (John) gave me a lesson one time," Royak said. "But he wouldn't let me hit the ball! I took five swings and I said, 'Put a ball down.' He told me I wasn't ready, so I said enough of that, and left."

She hasn't picked up a club since.

Despite that, Royak has become a big-time fan of the sport and particularly its players, which is precisely why she is at Innisbrook.

"I love watching them play," she said.

Royak is one of 1,200 volunteers at the Transitions Championship, all of whom serve under the direction of Doug Laseter. Some are locals. Others came from as far away as Canada.

The volunteers, who range in age from 12 to 90, fill a variety of roles.

There are marshals, who keep fans quiet during play, standard bearers, who carry signs that display scores, and even drivers, who shuttle players around.

Volunteering comes with a price tag.

First-timers pay $80 for the right to assist with the event. For returnees, it's $55. Each receives a hat, shirt, wind jacket, discount coupons to play area golf courses and, of course, the opportunity to watch the world's best golfers tackle the resort's famed Copperhead course.

"I love being out here," said Julia Hall, 50, of Clearwater Beach.

Now in her fifth year as a tournament volunteer, Hall is hole captain on the 18th. As part of that role, she arranges the schedules for all 30 volunteers assigned to the hole.

Not far from Hall's spot, Jimmie Johnson, a 59-year-old Holiday resident, is spending the week as a marshal on the first hole. He splits time between the green, fairway and tee.

"This is where all the action is," Johnson said.

Mike Molinari, 51, of Palm Harbor, has used a week of vacation time from his job as operations supervisor at the St. Petersburg post office to volunteer at the event. He's the laser co-chair.

"Every shot, every putt, we follow and feed the info to the TV and PGA Tour," Molinari said.

Volunteers don't just spend time in the sun.

Shirley Gresham volunteers more than 1,000 hours per year at Innisbrook, mostly inside an office. The 72-year-old Palm Harbor resident, now serving in her 13th year, is responsible for, among other things, ordering volunteer uniforms.

Why pay to work so hard?

Gresham belongs to the Beta Beta chapter of Epsilon Sigma Alpha, a philanthropic organization in Palm Harbor. Several members volunteer at the event. In turn, the Transitions Championship allocates funds to some of the group's charities.

"I like being able to help people," Gresham said.

If you go

Transitions Championship

When/where: Through Sunday; Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club, Palm Harbor

Tickets: Daily, $40 in advance; $55 at gate. Hooters Owl's Nest tickets $69 each. Fans 17-under are free. Tickets available on line at www.transitionschampionship.com or at area Publix.

College weekend: Students with valid student identification can purchase admission tickets for half price today and Sunday.

Parking: $20

Volunteers keep PGA Transitions Championship on course at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club 03/20/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 20, 2009 9:57pm]

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